• Memorial Day in Your Face

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    Americans consider Sunday evening television programming their chance
    to unwind from their busy weekend and to settle down in preparation
    for the new workweek. In the absence of a NFL football game, I suspect
    that news magazine shows like 60 Minutes meet the viewing
    needs of a large portion of adult Americans. The show's long-running
    legacy attests to its success. I caught part of the show last Sunday
    May 30, 2004. The Andy Rooney segment dealt with memorializing our
    fallen war soldiers.

    his report gave the false impression that there is a disproportionate
    amount of attention directed toward the casualty count from our
    current war in Iraq. He rattled off body count numbers from the
    Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War that when
    combined totaled nearly one million war dead. It appeared that he
    was going to conclude that the nearly 1,000 American deaths in the
    Iraq War are not so significant by comparison. But just as Rooney
    had skillfully drawn us into his trap and we were ready to throw
    something at our TV sets, he said that for the next eleven minutes
    we would be viewing the faces of the Americans killed in the war
    in Iraq. Four photos at a time scrolled across our screens at just
    the right pace to get a glimpse of each dead American soldier. The
    majority of the photos were the cookie cutter variety standard pose
    of the soldiers, men and liberated women, standing in their dress
    uniforms by the American flag. But not every soldier was represented
    this way. Some were obviously high school pictures and others were
    snapshots of the soldier holding one or more of their children.
    A few were taken showing the soldier in uniform looking into the
    faces of their babies. The father and child or mother and child
    shots would have served a photo essay contest well in the category
    of contrast, showing the loving, caring parent message contrasted
    with the war-ready soldier prepared to fight and make sacrifices
    for our country, both captured on one 8×10 glossy.

    was a long eleven minutes but it was the kind of event all of America
    needed to see. We needed to be reminded that every man and woman
    who has paid the ultimate price for this senseless war was somebody
    who was loved and someone who will not be forgotten. We needed to
    see also that the nearly 1000 war dead have supreme significance.
    The person who needed to see this memorial most was George W. Bush
    because the Iraq War is his war. It was his administration that
    ignored intelligence reports that did not support his myopic insistence
    that America had to invade Iraq. He is the man who wrongfully tossed
    about claims of weapons of mass destruction and claims of ties between
    Saddam Hussein and Osama Binladen. He is the master chef who cooked
    up his brew of bad intelligence. It is his administration that has
    kept an inadequate-sized force of American soldiers struggling with
    the impossible role of occupiers in a country that now has plenty
    of reason to hate us.

    take the gloves off and say what the major news media outlets are
    obviously too afraid to report. Our president put this country into
    a war for the purposes of making billions of dollars for his circle
    of friends and relatives who profit from the war industry, e.g.,
    Halliburton Corporation, Kellogg, Brown and Root Co., and The Carlyle
    Group. The economic issues alone will leave our children and their
    children paying for years and generations to come. Bush also wants
    to control a strategic portion of The Middle East by establishing
    military bases in what was Iraq before America annexed it into our
    51st state. This action will allow him to keep the peace
    in Oil town while maintaining a ready force to support the symbiotic
    relationship America fosters with Israel.

    of this was accomplished by a non-combat president who manipulated
    service in The Air National Guard, in spite of his lowest possible
    test scores, for the sole purpose of avoiding combat duty in Vietnam.
    A president born in New Haven, Connecticut who thinks he is a Texan
    just because he can talk with a drawl through that ever-present
    smirk. The same smirk that advertises he does not care what anyone
    thinks because he will get his way no matter how wrong or how criminal
    just as he has done his entire privileged life. A president who
    acts without apparent conscience and readily sends other men into
    battle to fight and die for his agenda. A president who surrounds
    himself with incompetence in the likes of Rumsfeld and Feith and
    skullduggery in the likes of his personal Svengali and dirty trickster,
    Karl Rove. A president whose sole redeeming act, one that might
    save The Republican Party and our country from permanent embarrassment
    would be to resign from office.

    the images of the soldiers killed in the Iraq war will stay with
    everyone who saw the memorial. Imagery is a powerful tool. We seem
    to have a video card in our brains that is capable of drawing up
    images from our past and bringing us right back to that point in
    time. While assigned to a remote firebase in Vietnam I experienced
    an event that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Our team
    of rangers was on a stand-down, meaning our team was in the firebase
    while another team was out on patrol. It was nearing dusk and I
    was sitting on top of a bunker trying to catch a cool, never-present
    breeze. Helicopters started landing at the staging area near our
    bunker. They were unloading body bags and going back out for more.
    It was an unusual sight because our KIA's were usually taken directly
    to our main divisional headquarters. It was obvious that we had
    too many to handle using standard operating procedures and they
    needed to get the dead off the battlefield.

    bodies were placed in a neat row next to the landing area. As subsequent
    deliveries were made, the bodies were stacked much like one might
    stack firewood. Combat soldiers see many surreal images in their
    battle experiences. This image was strange to me because it seemed
    that someone ought to have been there to care about these dead Americans.
    Missing was the tears these men surely deserved. It occurred to
    me that the effect of this collection of dead Americans would not
    be felt by their loved ones for some time. I was unsure of the efficiency
    of the dreaded telegram the family would receive and unsure of how
    long it took for Middle America to receive their boxes of sadness.
    I was very sure, however, that inside each bag there were the remains
    of a young man likely covered in blood and Mekong Delta mud. I quit
    watching the deliveries because I knew it was important not to let
    the war get to me. I knew that in a day or two I would be out on
    a mission and I needed my head clear of negative thoughts. This
    was necessary for my own survival. So I confess to turning my back
    to the growing death pile. And I confess that I did not go to the
    bodies as if they needed to be guarded or protected. It did not
    make sense then, either.

    the evening wore on, I could not escape the sound of helicopters
    touching down and lifting off. I knew that the sound meant more
    dead Americans were arriving. At least the war was over for them.
    I do not have pretty memories of war. I do not remember anything
    about it being pretty. I recall this experience often. Memorial
    Day for combat veterans comes about 365 days each year.

    was struck by President Bush's insistence that photos of war dead
    not be released to the public. He even went to the extreme of having
    the person responsible for photographing Americans returning in
    their coffins fired from her job. And just for good measure, her
    husband was fired as well. Now there are two jobs that were lost
    due to the war — surely this was not in Bush's economic recovery
    plan! The sad irony to this event is the photos gave America an
    image of the war dead coming home in respectfully neat, flag-draped
    coffins and Bush took this away. The war veterans among us who know
    what the contents of those coffins actually look like get comfort
    from seeing the respectful treatment. We know that this is as good
    as the terror can get. The wimps who invented this war with Iraq
    and then hired other men and women to go and sacrifice on their
    behalf cannot stomach the face of death.

    is why I say Bush needs to see the eleven-minute memorial. He needs
    to put the images of American war dead in his face and own up to
    his actions and accept the culpability for the horror nightmare
    he has created.

    4, 2004

    Woolley [send him mail]
    is a disabled Vietnam veteran living in Miami, Florida. He served
    with the 9th Infantry Division in The Mekong Delta in
    a Ranger unit doing reconnaissance 1968–69 where he received
    a gunshot wound to the head leaving one side severely paralyzed.
    He is a father of four grown children and grandfather of seven,
    including a set of triplets.

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